Network Rail Trials Laser and Plasma Trains to Clear Rails this Autumn

Network Rail Trials Laser and Plasma Trains to Clear Rails this Autumn

Network Rail has begun testing of trains fitted with lasers and plasma jets to clear the tracks of leaves this Autumn.

Some Network Rail MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles) have been fitted with high tech laser equipment to zap leaves off the rails. This new technology will minimise passenger delays and is more efficient than the currently used systems.

The RHTTs used today, which clean the rails using high pressure water jets, cover around 1 million miles of track between October and December, that’s the same as treating the entire network 50 times or going to the moon and back twice. The trains use approximately 200 million gallons of water every year meaning that these new plasma trains would save taxpayers money and help preserve the environment.

The lasers trains use three high power beams per railhead to instantly vaporise any leaves or debris on the line. However the plasma trains use heat and electricity, which is supplied by the DC third rail system, to tear and burn the leaves.

The new laser fitted MPVs are being tested on the East Lancashire Railway. Providing that the tests show the lasers and plasma clean the rails effectively, further tests and studies will take place to get the new ‘space age’ technology on live rails.

Ben Medendorp, Laser Precision Solutions head of finance and commerce, said: “Normally you really have to move mountains to get access to a railway network, so having a testing site like this which is secluded where you can take measurements every day is essential to gather data.

“I really do think that Network Rail is taking a leadership role in the industry by solving this global issue of low railhead adhesion. We are proving technologies and learning valuable lessons that could help railways around the world.”

Julian Swan, PlasmaTrack chief executive officer, said:Having three weeks of uninterrupted testing available on an operational railway isn’t usually possible so being able to carry out these trials with Network Rail and East Lancashire Railway have been invaluable.

“We’ve learnt a lot on how the autumn treatment trains (MPVs) currently operate, and how the PlasmaTrack system could benefit train wheel traction and protecting wheel-slide caused by leaves on the line.”

The importance of these autumn railhead treatment trains is to prevent low adhesion. A simple way of explaining it is if there was black ice on a road and a car tried to drive over it. Imagine there was a red light and the car tried to brake, it would slide and cause consequences such as crashes. It is very similar on the railway and that is why we need these RHTTs to clean away the leaves.

Mike Kelly, East Lancashire Railway chairman, said: “When people think of heritage railways, they probably think they just look at preserving the past, but here at the East Lancashire Railway we want to be a moderniser too.

“We’re very proud to be able to play our part and provide our tracks and infrastructure to allow Network Rail to do their important research and development, and excited to be at the forefront of technology which could make millions of future journeys better for passengers across the country.”

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Last Updated on February 1, 2023 by Lewis


Hello my name is lewis and I am the editor of LWrail train magazine. I manage the LWrail social media, YouTube channel and write most of the stories on this website.

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